Ko Aung Aung and Ko Moe Kyaw are two of three survivors of extrajudicial killings carried out by the Shanni Nationalities Army in Kachin state’s Se Zin village. The incident, which saw five others murdered on a single night, is believed to have killed around 100 people between August 2022 and January 2023. The detainees, ranging in age from 14 to 67, were arrested in August 2022 following a raid in Se Zin. Their survival offers a unique window into the lawlessness that has become a norm under the military regime.
The rare accounts shed light on extrajudicial murders, which campaigners say is a matter of increasing concern with nearly 20,000 people currently in custody in prisons across the country. A Kachin analyst who has researched the incident and corroborated the accounts shared by the two survivors argues that the Se Zin incident is an international crime and that many similar incidents are happening due to the unpunished and impunity of human rights violators.
In early 2022, Ko Aung Aung and Ko Moe Kyaw arrived in Se Zin village, Kachin state, Myanmar, seeking work in the gold mines of Hpakant township. They were among hundreds of thousands who work in the mineral-rich land, but the jobs come with risks such as mine collapses, landslides, and steep environmental and health costs. Kachin state has always been one of the most lawless parts of Myanmar, with gangs, militias, and the government’s military forces vying for the region’s wealth.
Since the coup, fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and junta forces and their allies in Hpakant township has intensified, with post-coup clashes between the military and those against its rule, such as the People’s Defense Force, adding a new level of chaos.
In July 2022, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and junta forces engaged in a prolonged conflict in Hpakant township, resulting in thousands of civilian displacement. After seized both a junta camp and SNA military camp, the junta launched airstrikes on Se Zin village and set fire to more than 400 homes. At least 15 people were killed, and around 400 people were detained in and around Se Zin. Approximately 100 of them were brought to the local police station, where they were forced to lie face down and beaten.
The intervening months brought worsening horrors, with survivors reporting brutal treatment, given scant food and water, and sharing a small cell with 13 others. Four of them died of fever in the months after their arrest, while two others were allegedly killed by police in December.
Ko Moe Kyaw, Ko Aung Aung, and six others were taken from their cells for interrogation and handed over to Shanni Nationalities Army forces, aligning with the junta and opposing the KIA. They were tied to motorcycles and driven into the jungle.
Upon arrival, they were brought to a ditch of sorts, where they were forced to sit on the edge of a knoll and hit twice on the back of their head. When they fell down, their throat was cut. Ko Moe Kyaw believed the drunkenness of the soldiers saved him from worse injury.
When the soldiers departed, the three survivors took stock of their surroundings and discovered their would-be grave was the open pit of a former gold mine. Ko Aung Aung, the most seriously injured of the three, nearly passed out due to the heavy bleeding. They made it to an undisclosed safe location, where a doctor working with the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) treated their injuries.
A Se Zin resident said that prisoners at the police station were regularly pulled out to be murdered. They were killed by cutting their throats, which was like cutting a chicken’s head off. Over the course of the months, he occasionally saw others who escaped alive. One man’s injury was so severe that he did not dare to look at it.
Two survivors of a Myanmar war crime shared accounts with a civil society group, revealing similar atrocities being carried out by security forces in Kachin state. The first video, found on the phone of an SNA soldier arrested by the KIA, shows an SNA soldier and a man in plain clothes repeatedly stabbing two unmoving men, with voices giving orders in Shanni, Kachin, and Burmese languages.
Tony Loughran, a former British Special Forces medic, believes the recording shows a training session, as neither victim is struggling or shouting. The second video, obtained by RFA, shows six men in plain clothes holding guns cutting the throat of an unarmed man and kick him into a pit, speaking Burmese. Former U.S. Army officer Miemie Winn Byrd, who reviewed the footage, stated that such actions by a soldier would not be justified, stating that this was not a military operation but a murder.